In May, Carnegie Mellon University launched its OpenSimon Toolkit, a suite of resources that includes platforms for designing and delivering open courseware, intelligent tutor authoring, educational warehousing and analysis tools, and chatbot frameworks. The Pennsylvania school spent five years and $100 million to develop the tools with the goal of making them available to other institutions via open licenses.
“What we’re working to develop is a learning engineering community because the kinds of problems we’re trying to solve are bigger than any one institution can tackle on its own,” says Norman Bier, executive director of the CMU Simon Initiative. “Our sense is that postsecondary education is going to be in a better place if we collaborate across institutions. For folks to do that, they need a set of tools and hardware to make it happen.”
Making the OpenSimon Toolkit available via open licenses ensures that it will be available for the long term and allows colleges to adapt resources to individual needs. Datasets can be shared to build a larger research base on how innovations impact student learning outcomes.
The initial response has been positive. Within days of its launch, schools wanting to develop Open Learning Initiative courses had started downloading a tool called Echo: OLI Course Authoring. Bier monitors downloads and tracks whether the tools have solved specific education challenges.
“The number of projects that we take on, the impact that we’re able to have on learning outcomes, the places where the projects aren’t successful but we’re able to learn something from and repeat—these are probably the metrics that we care most about,” he says. “We’re also going to be able to see what kinds of datasets we’re able to gather and what kinds of new approaches we’re able to promote, and how this feeds back into building a larger evidence and research base, which is quite exciting.”
Ultimately, CMU’s investment will help other schools improve teaching methods and student learning outcomes.
“We don’t always see the work we’re doing [in learning sciences] getting out into the world and having the kind of impact that we’d like to see globally,” says Bier. “Too often, we see efforts being replicated and don’t always see folks sharing infrastructure, which is what we wanted to do.”